Thanks to the Western world’s obsession with social media, conflict is now never more than a click away. Although social media may once have been intended for connection and cohesion, platforms like Facebook and Twitter have fast developed into online battlegrounds where insults are frequently traded over even the most inoffensive content.
Thousands of accounts across multiple platforms have been banned for spouting hate speech and for bullying. There’s no question that vitriolic content takes a major toll on our mental health. For many, social media is the first thing we look at in the morning and waking up to this negativity can set our mood on a destructive tract for the day.
The Impact of Day-to-Day Arguments
Studies have shown that spending less time on social channels can reduce anxiety, stress, feelings of loneliness and low self-esteem. But as a nation, our anxiety levels just continue to rise – rates of anxiety and depression have increased by 70% in the past 25 years.
Unfortunately, this toxicity isn’t restricted to the internet because social conflict is a frequent problem in the workplace.
Employees may clash with their colleagues over everything from work methods and work ethic to political leanings. More petty arguments such as whose turn it is to make the coffee can easily filter their way into our working days and bring morale down.
On another level, employees may argue with their managers over workload, salary, holidays, employee benefits, and healthy work environments.
Day-to-day conflict can have a lasting effect on our mental health. If left to fester, this can lead to absenteeism, reduced productivity, and deeper issues between colleagues.
Organising a Support System
The challenge is to develop an office culture where everyone feels comfortable and valued. But how do employers reconcile arguments where both parties are convinced that they’re in the right?
How do you handle the more chronic and serious conflicts between colleagues (62% of employees say they have an “office enemy”)? There’s always a risk that individuals might come away feeling victimised or isolated rather than satisfied that their voice has been heard.
The solution isn’t easy. While many agree that creating an environment for employees to deal with issues in a more open, mature way is vital, we believe that providing mental health support to deal with the deeper issues is just as important.
Employee Assistance Programmes
Often companies have no real, organised support system in place. Many HR departments are limited in what they are equipped to handle. It can be far more effective for employees to talk to a professional outside the workplace about work-related issues.
One way of providing this service is through an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP). This offers members a 24/7 telephone helpline to talk through any issues they might have.
EAPs also offer face-to-face counselling, which is invaluable in both providing an outlet and potentially nipping problems in the bud before they become overwhelming.
In the case of employee disputes and bullying, employees need to speak to someone impartial without feeling judged or victimised. 62% of workers report being impacted by incivility at work at least once a month, and 75% are affected by bullying.
An EAP is a great first step to creating a harmonious work environment. It’s all about laying a foundation and building bridges.
Looking past our differences is key and one way of doing this could be to discuss them openly. If conflict at work is not addressed, it can easily become gossip fodder. This may result in further and ongoing divisiveness.
Some employers find it effective to hold a weekly ‘circle time’ with employees, where issues in the office can be calmly raised and discussed.
Giving those involved the opportunity to talk to each other will clear the air in the short- and long-term. When done as a group this process can be therapeutic and support employees in approaching conflict more maturely in future.
Team-building activities can also help create strong bonds in the workplace. A common struggle shared by employees is creating lasting, meaningful friendships at work. Often, simply spending more time with people is all it takes for friendships to start.
Cultivating these kinds of relationships in the office can result in employees working far better as a team. Organising frequent company outings is an easy and fun way of allowing employees to get to know each other outside the work context. It can also be a way to dissolve any budding conflict.
Creating a Strong Team
It can take time to build a strong team in the office and it may not always work right away. But we always encourage employers to not give up too easily. Ignoring issues will only make them worse, resulting in absenteeism and loss of productivity.
If the problem is allowed to sit, presenteeism can also create an uncomfortable work environment for everyone.
As a business owner, it’s important to know when to tackle these issues head-on. This will help to avoid them developing into something more serious. It’s also essential for managers to stay aware of what is going on with their team. In doing so, employers can identify and weed out conflict early. They will also know when to provide their team with support should they need to talk to someone.